Previewing The 2024 LHSAA Baseball Playoffs

By MIKE STROM // Contributor

Cherish the moment.

That’s the message that Coach Brad Bass has delivered to his Catholic of Baton Rouge baseball team heading into the postseason.

Nationally-ranked Catholic (32-2) culminated its regular season Monday night with a 7-0 victory at Central to complete an undefeated 10-0 run to the District 4-5A championship season and earn the No. 1 seed in the Division I Select baseball playoffs.

“This is a situation where you win, you live, (and) you lose, you die, relatively speaking,’’ Bass said of the playoffs. “But at the end of the day every great team eventually is going to go their separate ways. All we can make sure that we do is to stay absolutely present in every moment that we have together.

“I think that’s the biggest message, that we have to play for each other, forget about the individual things and let’s play for each other. Because, no matter what, a month from now this stuff is going to wrap up and we’ll never be in the same place with this group in the same time again. So the message is just be present and have a blast every chance we get to play baseball.’’

Catholic, ranked No. 2 behind Corona, Calif., in the Top 35, will enjoy a first-round bye this weekend as will all of the top 12 seeds in the Division I Select playoffs before opening play against the winner between No. 16 Warren Easton and No. 17 Pineville in a best-of-three series scheduled for April 23-27 at Grizzly Field in Baton Rouge.

Ranked No. 1 earlier this season by Sports Illustrated, the formidable Grizzly Bears return six starters, including No. 1 pitcher and LSU signee William Schmidt, from a 2023 team that came two victories short of defending its 2022 state title following an 8-2 loss to Rummel in the Division I Select state semifinals.

Schmidt, a right-handed pitcher and infielder, is among six Catholic college signees or commitments. Pitcher/infielder Trip Dobson (Houston), center fielder Brooks Wright (UL) and right-handed pitcher Ryder Loup (Loyola-New Orleans) are senior signees while shortstop Jack Ruckert (LSU) and left fielder Noah Lewis (UL) are junior commitments.

Ruckert leads the Grizzlies in batting at .454 followed by Wright (.425), Lewis (.396), catcher Andrew Clapinski (.386) and Dobson (.366). Described by Bass as Catholic’s “ringleader,’’ Clapinski has six homers to lead the team.

Junior right-hander Jake Tompkins has emerged as Catholic’s stopper in relief while left-hander/outfielder Wyatt Chenevert and right-hander Cohen LeBlanc have been other key senior pieces for a team that has won its last 14 games.

Catholic is 25-1 versus instate competition with its lone loss in-state being a 4-1 decision at Mandeville on March 20 that the Bears avenged two days later by an 11-0 score in Baton Rouge to start the current 14-game winning streak.

“I love this group,’’ Bass said. “I think (what makes them special) starts at the top with our leadership. It’s a junior and senior heavy group. The way these guys worked the offseason has just been special. And it’s a group that cares more about winning than personal accolades. It’s hard to come by this day and age. So it’s something for me as a coach, I find myself being more of a fan than a coach, watching them play, with such an exciting and fun group to be around, a player-driven team.’’

Asked about Catholic’s strengths, Bass said, “Starting pitching for one. Our pitching has been great. The depth and experience throughout our lineup (is solid). I think the biggest question mark for us was going to be the bullpen and the guys behind the guy. We knew William (Schmidt) was going to be special. We knew Trip (Dobson) was going to be good.

“But Ryder Loup has had such an incredible year. Jake (Tompkins) and Wyatt (Chenevert) and some of the other guys . . .  that has been the story for those guys to kind of hold it down for us in between. I think we’re pretty balanced. But having a guy like William Schmidt toe the mound, that’s pretty special.’’

Catholic’s 32 victories are the most by any Louisiana team this season, coming against a monstrous in-state and out-of-state schedule. The Grizzlies also have added a game at Barbe in Lake Charles for 5 p.m. Friday after playing an intra-squad scrimmage on Thursday.

Barbe (29-5) is the reigning state champion, top seed for Division I Non-Select teams and ranks second behind Catholic in victories among in-state programs this season.

“We played everybody’s Who’s Who,’’ Bass said. “And I was like, ‘What were you thinking? You’re a glutton for punishment.’ But I wanted everything to be hard this year. I wanted it to be challenging. I wanted to play the best. I really wanted to challenge them.

“We’ve got a real sour taste in our mouth about how last year ended. These guys have done such a great job of keeping it at one pitch at a time and playing with that chip on their shoulder. So it’s been a really fun group. I love these dudes and I love the school.’’

The goal for all is to reach the Ochsner LHSAA Baseball State Tournament scheduled for May 7-11 at McMurry Park in Sulphur where the best-of-three series format for the first three rounds of the playoffs gives way to single-elimination events in the semifinals and finals.

Best-of-three series in bi-district, regionals and the quarterfinals are played at the home field of the higher seed. Bi-district play can begin as early as Wednesday to be concluded by Saturday.

All five Non-Select playoffs brackets have 24 teams entered with the top eight receiving first-round byes.

The Select playoffs brackets have 20 teams for Divisions I, II, III and IV with the top 12 seeds earning byes. The Division V Select playoffs has a 10-team bracket with the top six seeds earning a bye.

In addition to Catholic, St. Louis Catholic (20-10), St. Charles Catholic (25-7), Opelousas Catholic (26-6) and Avoyelles Public Charter (18-5) are the four top seeds in Select divisions II, III, IV and V respectively. St. Charles Catholic and Avoyelles Public Charter are reigning state champions.

Joining Barbe as Non-Select division top seeds are Lutcher (25-7), South Beauregard (25-3), Oak Grove (15-10) and Pitkin (21-3) in Divisions II, III, IV and V respectively. Oak Grove and Pitkin are reigning champions.

John Curtis (23-6), Rummel (21-7) and Northwood-Shreveport (26-6) are the next three seeds respectively behind Catholic in Select Division I with reigning state champion Jesuit (20-11) being a No. 9 seed. Jesuit defeated Rummel, 1-0, in last year’s finals.

In Non-Select Division I, West Monroe (25-7), Sam Houston (28-4) and Dutchtown (22-10) join No. 1 Barbe in filling out the top four seeds respectively. Barbe defeated West Monroe for the 2023 state title.

Teurlings Catholic (18-10-1), Vandebilt Catholic (22-12) and Buckeye (21-8) complete the top four seeds in Select Division II behind St. Louis Catholic, with No. 6 seed E.D. White (16-13) being defending state champion.

Iota (26-3), Brusly (23-6) and Erath (23-7) are seeds 2-4 behind Lutcher in Non-Select Division II. Reigning state champion Iowa (16-11) is a No. 12 seed.

Parkview Baptist (27-6), University (22-8) and Holy Savior Menard (20-8) round out the top four seeds in Select Division III behind reigning state champion St. Charles Catholic.

In addition to South Beauregard, Sterlington (18-9), Caldwell Parish (22-9) and Red River (20-8) complete the top four seeds in Non-Select Division III, with defending state champion Berwick (9-18) drawing a No. 14 seed.

In Select Division IV, Covenant Christian (26-5), Ouachita Christian (22-6) and Vermilion Catholic (18-6) join No. 1 Opelousas Catholic as the top four seeds. Ouachita Christian is reigning state champion.

Reigning state champion Oak Grove is joined by Mangham (18-8), French Settlement (14-16) and DeQuincy (17-9) as the top four seeds in Non-Select Division IV.

Grace Christian (24-9), Family Community (13-14) and Family Christian (15-13) complete the top four seeds in Select Division V behind reigning state champion Avoyelles Public Charter (18-5) while defending state champion Pitkin, Weston (19-13), Hicks (16-8) and Stanley (20-6) comprise the top four in Non-Select Division V.